Brag­ging rights

Does blow­ing your own trum­pet earn ad­mi­ra­tion, or re­sent­ment?

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - WELLBEING -

ROBERT Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power isn’t a book that you want to be seen read­ing in pub­lic. It’s not just be­cause the book’s bright red cover and fla­grant ti­tle will at­tract at­ten­tion, rather be­cause the con­tro­ver­sial con­tent di­vides opin­ion. The in­ter­na­tional best­seller, first pub­lished in 1998, has been de­scribed as “Machi­avel­lian” and “amoral”, while the au­thor has been char­ac­terised as a so­ciopath and a psy­chopath. The fact that the ti­tle is one of the most re­quested books in US prison li­braries only adds to Greene’s vil­lain sta­tus.

The 48 Laws of Power bills it­self as a “de­fin­i­tive man­ual for any­one in­ter­ested in gain­ing, ob­serv­ing, or de­fend­ing against ul­ti­mate con­trol”. In other words, it’s a book for any­one who wants to learn how to play the game of life like a chess cham­pion.

Of course, dif­fer­ent peo­ple will take dif­fer­ent things from it. I like the book for its his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples of mil­i­tary tac­ti­cians (al­though I know that sounds like some­one who says they only read Play­boy for the ar­ti­cles). It’s painstak­ingly re­searched and while there is no em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence to sug­gest that the laws are ef­fec­tive, there is no doubt that Greene has done his home­work.

There are oth­ers, how­ever, who take the ad­vice at face value and de­cide that Law 15 — Crush Your En­emy To­tally — is just the tac­tic that they need to add to their reper­toire of sub­terfuge and skul­dug­gery.

Any­way, I di­gress. I re­cently started reread­ing the book and I came to Law 46 — Never Ap­pear Too Per­fect. “Ap­pear­ing bet­ter than oth­ers is al­ways dan­ger­ous,” writes the au­thor, “but most dan­ger­ous of all is to ap­pear to have no faults or weak­nesses.”

Un­like Greene’s other laws, which pro­mote guile and cun­ning, this law stands out as a pro­foundly sen­si­ble piece of ad­vice, es­pe­cially in the age of the #blessed sta­tus up­date.

Most of us are guilty of putting a fil­ter on our good for­tune and flaunt­ing it on so­cial me­dia with­out re­ally think­ing about the ef­fect of stok­ing envy and re­sent­ment.

Be­cause envy is an emo­tion that few peo­ple ad­mit to, we are less in­clined to as­sume it in oth­ers. Yet we only have to think about how we feel when our friends post pho­tos of first-class travel and back­stage ac­cess to un­der­stand why we should prob­a­bly avoid do­ing it our­selves.

As Greene writes: “Once suc­cess hap­pens your way... the peo­ple to fear the most are those in your own cir­cle, the friends and ac­quain­tances you have left be­hind. Feel­ings of in­fe­ri­or­ity gnaw at them; the thought of your suc­cess only height­ens their feel­ings of stag­na­tion.”

Sure, you could ar­gue that real friends should be happy for you, but that is to min­imise the in­sid­i­ous na­ture of envy, es­pe­cially among con­tem­po­raries and col­leagues. You’ ll no­tice that we can be happy for those who aren’t chas­ing the same am­bi­tions, yet when a peer’s suc­cess threat­ens our self-es­teem, we’re not al­ways as gra­cious.

Envy, it could be ar­gued, is an evo­lu­tion­ary sur­vival mech­a­nism that drives us to com­pete for re­sources, whether it’s money, sta­tus or even sex­ual part­ners. It’s lit­tle won­der then that we al­ways sup­port the un­der­dog — they pose no threat.

A land­mark study on envy by Sarah Hill and David Buss con­cluded that we tend to re­spond to envy with sub­mis­sion (avoid­ance); am­bi­tion (com­pet­ing) or de­struc­tion (back-bit­ing).

We’ve all seen this play out in one way or an­other, so why then do we pro­voke envy when we know its detri­men­tal ef­fects? In­deed, why would any­one ac­tu­ally want to be “the envy of their friends”, as old-school ad­ver­tis­ers used to say?

Greene ad­vises suc­cess­ful peo­ple to “oc­ca­sion­ally dis­play de­fects and ad­mit to harm­less vices, in or­der to de­flect envy and ap­pear more hu­man and ap­proach­able”.

Some peo­ple do this very well — we all know of a multi-mil­lion­aire farmer who drives a 20-year-old car. Like­wise, Oprah’s fluc­tu­at­ing weight makes us think of her more as some­one we can all re­late to rather than just an ob­scenely wealthy TV pro­ducer.

Oth­ers aren’t as so­phis­ti­cated in their dis­plays of false hu­mil­ity — the ‘hum­ble­brag’ be­ing an ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple.

That’s why it’s prob­a­bly best to leave The 48 Laws of Power aside at this point and de­fer to one of the 40 life lessons that clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Jordan Peter­son shared on Quora in­stead: “Be care­ful who you share good news with.” He didn’t elab­o­rate. He didn’t need to.

There will of course come points when we have good news that we are ea­ger to share, but per­haps we should be more mind­ful of the peo­ple we tell.

Does the friend who is strug­gling to find a new job need to hear about your 10k salary raise? Does the friend who has been try­ing for a baby for three years need to know about the ease with which you can get preg­nant?

It’s also worth think­ing about what your con­stant brag­ging says about you. Do oth­ers think of you as a per­son de­serv­ing of ad­mi­ra­tion, or a per­son des­per­ately seek­ing val­i­da­tion?

“A wise man need not be an ex­hi­bi­tion­ist,” wrote Osho in The Empty Boat. “What­so­ever is, is. He is not aware of it, he is not in any hurry to show it.”

Put sim­ply, we can de­flect envy by be­ing tact­ful or dis­creet. Or we can stop de­riv­ing our iden­tity from suc­cess, and no­tice that the need to de­flect envy no longer arises.

Do oth­ers think of you as a per­son

de­serv­ing of ad­mi­ra­tion, or a per­son des­per­ately seek­ing val­i­da­tion?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.